In the News: Gay Rights, Bullying, and the “Homosexual Agenda”

Thanks again to Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center for drawing our attention to Missouri’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

This bill, Missouri House Bill 2051, would prohibit teachers in public schools from discussing homosexuality with their students.

The impetus for the bill comes from a widespread belief in Fundamentalist America that public schools push what Fundamentalists call a “homosexual agenda.”

Understandably, non-fundamentalists see bills like this as an attempt to limit rights for gay people.  One Missouri activist called this bill “a desperate tactic by frightened, bigoted, cynical individuals who are terrified at the advancement the LGBT community has made.”  Other interweb voices blasted the move as “moronic legislation” by the “elected bullies” in the Missouri legislature.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by these anti-2051 activists.  This Missouri bill, like other bills that seek to control teachers’ ideological performance, promotes a poisonous educational atmosphere in which the best teachers are forced into cynicism or subversion.  Meanwhile, the bulk of public school teachers trudge along in a bland mediocrity, avoiding any topic that might have potential interest or relevance in students’ real lives.

But I wonder if opponents of the Missouri bill understand that the polemic strategy they use actually reinforces the notions of their Fundamentalist opponents.  Here’s what I mean:  The most common defense of discussing sexual orientation openly and frankly in public schools is that such discussions can help limit bullying.  Defenders of the rights of gay people, especially of gay students in schools, point to the dangerous and even fatal bullying of gay students as the threat of gag rules like HB 2051.  To attack HB 2051, gay-rights activists wrap their assertion of rights for homosexuals in the language of a wider, faddish anti-bullying campaign.

In doing so, they confirm the suspicion of anti-gay activists from Fundamentalist America.  Such activists warn of a creeping “homosexual agenda.”  Such an agenda, Fundamentalists warn, focuses on using public schools to promote an idea that all sexual orientations must be considered equal.  A central trait of this “homosexual agenda” in public schools, as this CitizenLink (an offshoot of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family) video emphasizes, is that the homosexual agenda is “sneaky.”  [This video is just under ten minutes long, but well worth the time for those who hope to understand the thinking of Fundamentalist America.]

Fundamentalists warn that homosexual activists will wrap their true agenda in other causes.  And, when gay-rights activists point to bullying as the main reason to oppose 2051, they add more legitimacy to this Fundamentalist claim.

Let me be clear here: I am not in support of 2051.  But arguing that this is a bullying issue, instead of a gay-rights issue, is exactly what Fundamentalist America expects of gay-rights activists.  I suspect a better understanding of Fundamentalist America would allow gay-rights activists to avoid playing into Fundamentalists’ hands in this way.  Using the broader issue of bullying to promote fuller equality in public schools ends up strengthening Fundamentalist arguments, not weakening them.  Equality should be enough.  That is, gay-rights activists and others should keep it simple: Public schools must be places where every student, teacher, parent, staff member, and administrator feels welcomed and valued.  Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or other distinction.  This is sufficient reason to oppose Missouri’s 2051 and similar bills.  Saying that gay students must have equal rights only because they might otherwise be bullied muddies the issue.  It fuels Fundamentalist fears that a “homosexual agenda” is being foisted on public schools, hidden in common anti-bullying campaigns.

 

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4 Comments

  1. I read your opening paragraph and thought, “How on earth does Adam write so neutrally?” I was actually relieved to see you include a little editorial today.

    But I’m not sure gay-rights campaigners are being disingenuous to push the bullying angle. With school-aged kids, it’s the most relevant aspect, surely?

    Reply
    • @Jonny,
      Whoops! I didn’t mean to get on a soapbox. I had hoped to keep my main focus on the ways non-fundamentalists sometimes misunderstand the rhetoric and culture of Fundamentalist America.
      But I do agree with you. I don’t think a focus on bullying is disingenuous, either. Bullying is a big deal. And these days it is politically potent. I don’t doubt that many people respond deeply and sincerely to the “It Gets Better” line of argument. I understand it, too, and find it relevant. My lament is that some non-fundamentalists have very little sense of the ways fundamentalists will interpret their arguments. By using bullying as the main issue, gay-rights activists confirm fundamentalist suspicion that gay-rights campaigns will ALWAYS use “sneaky” tactics to promote their true aims. In this case, I think the best strategy to promote full equal rights is to maintain a steady insistence that the issue is one of equal rights. Not bullying, not psychological adjustment, not multicultural awareness…but full and equal rights for every student, teacher, and family. It weakens fundamentalist claims of “sneaky” subversion, while keeping the public discussion more clearly focused.

      Reply
      • You make a good point. For a similar reason, I’m not all that opposed to discussion of Creationism in science classes, even though Creationism is clearly total fantasy.

        Fundamentalists claim that there is real data that liberals are trying to suppress. “It’s a conspiracy!” they say. Well, a good science teacher could look at this alleged data and use it to teach about the scientific method, while simultaneously closing off that line of argument and debunking Creationism.

      • Right! That is why I like Lee Meadows’ Missing Linkso much. He argues that it makes no sense to treat Fundamentalist students as a threat. Rather, if evolutionists see creationist students as STUDENTS first, creationists second, we can apply the more basic teaching logic of welcoming and valuing them as students as people. If it is the schools’ job to welcome LGBT students with open arms, shouldn’t creationist and Fundamentalist students be entitled to equally open arms?

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